This year was always going to be a difficult one for
Let's start with the basics: Democrats have more seats at risk this year than
The stakes are enormous. If Republicans take control of the Senate and keep the
Compounding Democrats' worries, Republicans are having a good year recruiting top-tier Senate candidates in both blue and red states. In Colorado, GOP Rep.
Charlie Cook, dean of Washington's congressional election forecasters, pronounced the Democrats' challenges "grisly."
And the mood wasn't improved by the victory last week of Republican
In Florida, Democrats thought they had a strong chance; Obama had carried the district narrowly in 2012, and Sink was a practiced campaigner. The Democratic campaign even outspent the GOP. But the untested Republican candidate won by almost 2%.
What happened? Democratic voters didn't show up. Only 53% as many ballots were cast in the district last week as in the presidential election of 2012. Among those voters, Sink's pollster, Geoff Garin, estimated that Republicans had a 13% advantage in turnout — meaning his candidate did well by keeping the race close at all.
The question, of course, is why so many Republicans turned out and why so few Democrats did. The answer among strategists on both sides was:
Instead, the problem is that a high-decibel debate over Obamacare has the effect of prompting conservatives to come out and vote, but not liberals. "The [Affordable Care Act] is an energizing issue for Republicans," Garin noted; it doesn't produce the same response among Democrats.
Can Democrats change that? Some, like former
Democrats will try to broaden the debate beyond Obamacare and the pace of economic growth to focus on issues of fairness: a higher minimum wage, stronger overtime pay regulations, pay equity for women. If Sen.
The Democrats will keep Obama away from Senate candidates in red states, but expect former President Clinton to do plenty of campaigning in the heartland, where he's popular among independents as well as Democrats.
They'll also mount an unprecedented $60-million field operation designed to find Democratic voters and prod them to vote. That part of the campaign, modeled on Obama's data-heavy operation in 2012, is the initiative that has political professionals most intrigued, since it's never before been attempted at that scale in a midterm election.
And, if all else fails, the Democrats will hope that Republicans make the same mistake they made in Senate elections in 2010 and 2012, nominating far-right
Cook's current projection is that Republicans are likely to gain between four and six seats in November — and six is exactly the number the GOP needs to win a majority in the Senate. Unless the economy and Obamacare look better to voters seven months from now, don't be surprised to see the GOP do even better than that.